A Multnomah County judge ruled Wednesday that Metro can issue bonds for a proposed Hyatt near the Oregon Convention Center without needing the approval of the region's voters, rejecting a legal challenge from opponents of the project's finance plan.
Earlier this year, Metro filed a so-called validation motion in Multnomah County Circuit Court, asking Judge Eric Bloch to declare its attempts to jump-start the hotel project were within the limits of the regional government's authority.
Metro has been trying for more than a year to start work on the project, a proposed $212 million, 600-room Hyatt hotel that would be built just north of the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
Metro's agreements call for $78 million in public financing to be matched by about $134 million in private-sector investment. Room taxes, designated to pay for visitor promotion in Portland, will pay off the $60 million in bonds Metro expects to issue.
Opponents to the project argued that state law required Metro to get voter approval before issuing the bonds. But in his 11-page ruling, Bloch said Metro's home-rule charter, approved by the voters, superseded state law.
"Metro has the authority to issue the revenue bonds under the Metro Charter alone," Bloch wrote.
The section of state law cited by hotel project opponents says that state law is subject to provisions of the Metro Charter.
Bloch also ruled that the project's development and finance agreement was valid and legal.
"(The opponents') argument against summary judgment regarding (the finance agreement) is that Metro failed to comply with what Respondents term a 'conditional precedent': submission of the financing package to the voters for their approval," Bloch wrote. "As the court has ruled above that ORS 268.310 has no application to Metro's actions in this case, Metro did not need to submit the financing package to the voters."
Bloch rejected Metro's requests to prevent future lawsuits against the project, saying it would be inappropriate to issue a ruling involving future, hypothetical facts.
In a statement, Metro Council President Tom Hughes said the ruling clears any doubt that the project should move forward.
"From day one, a small but well-funded group of opponents has sought to kill this project," Hughes said. "They raised questions and we answered them. They made false assertions that we corrected with facts. Their final effort was to file a series of lawsuits, at a hefty cost to taxpayers, to no avail."
But project opponents vowed to continue their attempts to stop the hotel's finance plan.
"I would imagine we'd look to appeal the judge's ruling. We disagree and we'll be looking to appeal," said Paige Richardson, one of two hotel opponents to file in opposition to Metro's validation proceeding. "We feel strongly that the voters should have their voices heard."
Some hotel owners, primarily backed by the owners of the Provenance hotel group, are still fighting the project's public investment in lawsuits at the Oregon Court of Appeals and in Clackamas County.